Prelude: October 5th 2008, Jacksonville Florida. Max Starks had entered the 2008 season as the Steelers transition player carrying a 6.85 salary. And he wasn't even starting.
During the second half the prime time epic that defined the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 regular season, starting left tackle Marvel Smith went down to injury....
...and in came, not Max Starks, but rather Trai Essex. The Steelers after paying him the average of the other top ten tackles in the league and calling him "starter capable" still didn't think enough of Max Starks to name him as the number 3 tackle.
Trai Essex barely slowed the Jaguar defenders who sacked Ben Roethlisberger 3 times that night and subjected him to numerous after the throw hits. All Max Starks could do was to stand there and watch....
Crisis on the Steelers Offensive Line, 2011 Edition
Four games into the 2011 season and the Pittsburgh Steelers have made an abrupt "About Face." After the team lost Willie Colon in the Debacle in Baltimore many in Steelers Nation expected the Pittsburgh to hit the red phone to either Starks or Flozell Adams. After all, the team had been rumored to be interested in bringing both men back well before Colon's injury.
Mike Tomlin instead made a commitment to starting rookie Marcus Gilbert, and in doing so the team seemed to be indicating that they were turning away from the "Patch and Pray" offensive line building strategy in favor of a more methodical approach.
Steel Curtain Rising applauded them for the more deliberate strategy.
Fear rarely motivates the decision making of Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert and they stuck to the plan even as the line play became more and more of a glaring liability after the Shut Out of Seattle and Escape from Indy game.
Such steadfastness is admirable, but knowing when to stand your ground and knowing when to stand down is something that separates organizations like the Packers and the Steelers from the Bengals and the Rams.
The Steelers demonstrated that today when the resigned Max Starks, waving rookie Chris Scott to make room for him on the roster.
Max Starks and the Steelers, Then and Now
Making the move all the more interesting is the fact that Max Starks rejoined the Steelers on October 5th, three years to the day that his predecessor’s career ended in injury.
The coaches 2008 experiment with Trai Essex as the starting left tackle lasted all of a few quarters. By the next week in Cincinnati, Max Starks started at left tackle where he went on to start 34 more games, including Super Bowl XLIII.
It is fair to say that Max Starks entered the 2008 season as an overpaid afterthought and ended up saving the season.
Can he do it again? Is it fair for Steelers Nation even to expect him to?
The answer remains far from clear. Starks weight ballooned during the off season, and he finished 2010 on injured reserve with a neck injury – the same type of injury that ultimately ended Marvel Smith’s career.
But the fact is that the offensive line did play better with Starks in the lineup in 2010, as Jim Wexell calculated that Ben Roethlisberger got sacked twice as often with Jonathan Scott starting at left tackle.
The Steelers themselves don’t seem to be clear on Starks role. During his PG Plus chat Gerry Dulac indicated that Starks would “only provide depth” and later indicated that Starks might not even be dressing were it not for the rash of injuries on the offensive line.
That at least, we’ll assume, is the word Dulac got before mid-day. But the end of the day Ed Bouchette took to PG Plus to inform readers that Max Starks took about half of the snaps with the starting unit.
That could mean many things, of course.
In the final analysis the Steelers have plenty of other issues besides the offensive line bedeviling them a quarter of the way into 2011. (How about two critical errors by the place kicking unit in four games?)
Even before his most recent injury no one would ever confuse Max Starks for Tony Boselli. So any messianic aura that accompies Starks’ return is sorely misplaced. If Max Starks can't be a savior for the line, he can bring it some much needed stability.
As the injuries have mounted and Ben Roethlisberger has taken more and more hits fans have wondered aloud “Isn’t there at least a chance that Starks [or Adams] would be better?”
Management has asked itself this question and their answer is obvious. Welcome back Max.
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